Is there a more entertaining “bad” movie in all the world than The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962)? Well yes, many would argue that there is, but that’s because a wealth of (un)worthy candidates are available, and tastes tend to vary. Still, there’s hardly a bad movie fanatic in the land who wouldn’t put this treasure up there with the very cream of the schlock crop, and its reputation to both appall and delight is thoroughly deserved. This film, ladies and gentlemen, is a doozy.
The Brain That Wouldn’t Die begins with a failed brain surgery scene in which the patient immediately dies on the table. Wow, things got dark and tasteless fast. We haven’t even learned anybody’s name yet, and there’s a corpse in the room. Even better, the two surgeons are both extremely grouchy, like they blame the patient for ruining their day, and have a bitter argument about what to do next, which you’d think wouldn’t be much of an issue this point. The younger surgeon (who turns out to be the older surgeon’s son) wins the squabble, and earns the right to mess around with the body until it comes back to life, a process that takes less than three minutes. Holy crap! Why would anybody argue with this guy? He can cure death!
The death-cheating surgeon is named Bill Cortner (played by Jason Evers, back when he called himself Herb Evers), and he’s just getting started. In a whirlwind of plot exposition, we learn that he’s been performing lots of weird and illegal experiments lately, that body parts have been going missing from the morgue and that Bill’s going to marry Jan (Virginia Leith) — a lovely young woman who’s about to spend most of the movie as a talking head on a table — but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Moments later, Bill and Jan get into a ghastly car accident, which is hardly surprising, since the entire car journey is depicted by fast glimpses of stop signs, wrong way signs and dangerous terrain speeding by to the sound of squealing tires and danger music. Jan is decapitated in the crash, so Bill scoops up her head and runs home to his basement where his secret laboratory is primed and ready to keep Jan’s noggin alive and angry.
Did I say angry? Silly me. I meant “homicidally bonkers.” Poor old Jan, now just a head, is propped up in a cake pan full of experimental serum, where she starts out by pitifully whispering “Let me die!” and winds up growling threats and laughing maniacally, like a comic book super villain. She doesn’t get to harangue Bill for very long though, because the good doctor immediately sets out looking for a hot woman to serve as a fresh body to attach to his fiancée’s head.
It’s a deliciously bizarre and sleazy premise; in order to remain faithful to Jan, Bill must go cruising for tail. He’s a handsome and wealthy doctor, so women start throwing themselves at him as soon as he looks in their direction. Old acquaintances jump into his car eagerly, and two strippers have an actual fight over him. Bill’s cautious enough to avoid killing any woman whose disappearance can be traced back to him, so the “shopping for voluptuous women” sequence goes on and on, as several of the doctor’s would-be victims wonder why he ditched them as soon as they waved to a friend in the street.
Meanwhile, Jan’s head is arguing with Bill’s deformed lab assistant (oh yeah, Bill has a deformed lab assistant. I should have mentioned.) and she’s also developing the power of telepathy, all the better to communicate with the hideous misshapen monster living in Bill’s closet. (Oh yeah, Bill’s got a closet monster, too. I should have mentioned that also.)
There isn’t a single boring moment in this entire ghastly, ridiculous movie. You’ll watch the entire thing in a state of stunned, giddy incredulity, and then immediately want to watch it again. A classic.